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Union leader: Police should have had a ‘voice at the table’

Shawn Willoughby

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Law enforcement agencies should have had a “voice at the table” before the federal Justice in Policing Act was drafted, the head of Albuquerque’s police union said.

“I hope it fails,” Albuquerque Police Officers Association President Shawn Willoughby told the Journal.

He said many police departments aren’t adequately funded to comply with many of the requirements the act would mandate into law. Willoughby also feels the legislation paints the law enforcement officers in a negative light that will make it hard to recruit quality personnel.

He said agencies such as the Albuquerque Police Department should not be compared to what happened in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died after his arrest by police.

“That was horrible and something like that should never happen,” he said.

He said officers in the Albuquerque police department are dedicated and “working their tails off to try to balance an out-of-control crime rate with being significantly understaffed.”

Willoughby said he didn’t have problems with some of the provisions, such as additional training and the requirement of body cameras, which he said APD already has.

But such requirements would require extra funding – funding that many departments don’t have at a time when some are calling for the defunding the police.

“I’m a huge proponent of additional training for police,” Willoughby said. But he said many departments are dealing with a manpower shortage when officers take time off for training.

“Albuquerque’s not afraid of lapel cameras,” he said. “We’ve been using them for years. … That’s the way society is going.” But he said the cameras and data storage were expensive for departments.

One of the provisions he is most disturbed by is the elimination of qualified immunity, which would open officers up for lawsuits in cases of police misconduct.

“We live in a suit-happy world,” he said. “If you’re going to get rid of qualified immunity, you’re going to have to pay officers triple what you’re paying them now because they’re going to have to pay for their own liability insurance. That is going to make it hard to recruit quality officers.”

Willoughby said he does not have a problem with a national registry that would prevent law enforcement agencies from hiring problematic officers.

“But I’m opposed to having personnel information available to the public,” he said. “It should be used within the law enforcement community.”

“We’ve all seen it,” Willoughby added. “When something bad happens and people jump to the conclusion that the police officer has done something wrong, he, his whole family, including his kids, his house, his whole life, is dragged through the mud.”

He also said Albuquerque and New Mexico already have a system in place that helps prevent the transfer of problematic officers to other agencies.

“The chiefs of police will send disciplinary information to the law enforcement academy board, which will then determine if that law enforcement officer is deserving to keep their law enforcement certificate,” he said.

Willoughby said many people don’t realize that APD is already working on reform and is making strides that the public doesn’t see. He called the department one of the most scrutinized in the country.

“I don’t think a lot of folks in our community know what we’ve actually done,” he said. “They don’t know that we’ve had civilian oversight since 1984. They don’t know that our SWAT team and our mental health program have been operationally compliant, meeting standards for more than two years.”

He said the department is making progress in “how we analyze force and how we’re using force … and that there is accountability set up within our policies.”

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